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My thoughts on choosing trekking poles.

First, I would like to say that I don't expect anyone to take my conclusions as gospel.  I'd worry about you if you did. But far too many people make decisions, their own conclusions, with no basis in any real testing.  I personally feel that thousands of people are out there poling their brains out every weekend and don't really know for sure that it's doing any good.  Perceived exertion may be important, but real world testing is better.  I also think there are thousands of people out there totally dismissing trekking poles without every giving them a real shot.

Here are my conclusions about trekking poles:

They save your knees and hips when stepping up or stepping down from big rocks on the trail.

They are a huge help in crossing streams.

They can aid balance.

I think they are a performance help on steep to really steep grades.

I don't think that they will help you reach that alpine lake any faster, or less tired.

There are two types of poles:

Well, more than that, but the two basic kinds are the T-grip or cane type poles, and the standard vertical grip.

My conclusion is that the T-grip is vastly better for down hills, and the vertical grip is better for up hills.  Although some cane grip poles have a vertical grip under the T-grip, they are a little short to use this way, at least for me, and you can't use the strap in the way you can on vertical grip poles (see instructions on using cross country poles).

The ideal pole doesn't exist.  That would be a longer cane grip pole with a regular vertical grip and strap underneath.

Adjustable or non adjustable:

Adjustable can be really convenient, especially if you haven't established the ideal length for you.  Plus you can change length for different terrain.  There are two types of clamps: the twist kind and the clamp kind.   I'm inclined to think the clamp kind are more secure.

On the other hand, it is really annoying, even dangerous, when the poles suddenly shrink in size while you are putting weight on them.  I hate that.

Right now, I'm inclined to go with either a folding or one piece. 

Pole weight:

Well, lighter is better, but stronger is better too.  I'd be warry of poles that are both cheap and light.  Want a good, light pole?  It's going to cost you.

Tips (points):

Carbide is king.  I think Lekki has really good points.  Kompedell not so good, Mountain Smith are in between.  Can't vouch for any others, but Black Diamond look like great poles all around.


I have 2 pairs of FlickLock Black Diamond poles (Syncline 2-piece and Alpine FLZ), 1 pair of Komperdell 3-part, 1 pair of MSRs (Flight 2), and 1 pair of Tubbs 2-part. 

I’ve used the Synclines more than any other and have never had a problem with them, I don’t think they’ve ever shortened by more than a centimeter or 2 over a long day on the mountain. 

The FLZs are more portable and their FlickLock Pro adjustment is even more secure. These are what I bring when I’m not 100% sure I’ll need poles, they fold up to about 15” long and fit perfectly in the side mesh pocket of my pack (with a compression strap over them for security.)

The Komperdells and Tubbs are basic poles, there’s nothing special about either of them. They both have twist locks that hold under moderate use. I do have HUGE powder baskets about 6” in diameter for the Komperdells, so they sink a little less in deep snow. 

I haven’t used them a whole lot because normally my hiking partner has them, but I really like the MSR poles, they have spring-loaded button locks that can’t slip. They’re very light, noticeably lighter than any of my other poles, and they have breakaway wrist straps in case the tip gets lodged in a crevice. The straps and button locks are also easy to adjust with heavy gloves or mittens on, FlickLocks and twist locks aren’t. Like everything MSR I’ve used (admittedly not a whole lot of stuff), they’re just very well thought out and designed. Their only “drawback” is that because the outer pole section doesn’t clamp down onto the inner, they rattle. It kind of sounds like the cat playing with a spring-loaded door stopper. 

They all have the standard “joystick” grip, which I don’t find to be a problem on downhills since I often palm the tops of the finials on descents. This lets me keep my wrists straight and my hands & forearms aligned so that all the load isn’t being applied perpendicular to my wrists. The straps don’t take the load on downhills like they do on uphills. On ascents I use my shoulder, chest, and back muscles for the pulling/pushing, my arms basically only place the poles where I want them. It’s a lot like paddling a canoe. I’ve never heard anyone else say they do it that way, but it works for me. 

Boulder Strider said:

The ideal pole doesn't exist.  That would be a longer cane grip pole with a regular vertical grip and strap underneath.

 I reviewed a pair of high-end Leki poles a few years ago, and a newer pair (replaced under warranty) are still my favorites. The Leki "egg and banana" grips are designed to be used with a number of hand positions, including hands-on-top rather like a cane grip. I use that grip all the time -- maybe as close as you will get to ideal in that department.

I used old ski poles for years for backpacking.  They work fine. 

I went to more modern poles that are a little lighter and adjust for setting up a tarp. 

Poles are useful especially for rough trails, heavy packs and/or water crossings. 

Poles would be an example of a piece of equipment where you can easily spend 3x more than you need to. 

Interesting you don't address metal vs. carbon or shock absorbing grips, cork vs. synthetic grips, or the different ways that poles adjust length. or warranty, because poles get hammered. 

i have had issues with twist-lock poles. on the other hand, every type of flick lock (a small piece that levers closed) has worked well for me, some need to slightly tighten or loosen a screw to fully engage and lock.

i prefer cork grips, as they absorb a little moisture. less likely to blister. i don't care one way or the other about how contoured or articulated the grips are, but that can be a preference for some people.

the carbide tips are all pretty durable, regardless of brand. i have had some black diamond carbide tips loosen, or had the lower shaft damaged so the carbide tip was loose or wobbly. black diamond replaced the lower shaft section and included new carbide tips for free, no questions asked. suspect Leki is similarly good about honoring the warranty.

i don't stress about weight, but the carbon poles i use are somewhat lighter than the previous aluminum pair. an advantage of the folding/sectional poles is that they tend to be lighter-weight.  

i had shock absorbing handles on a pair of poles, which were fine; i think carbon pole shafts do about as much to dampen shock as the shock absorbers.  my favorites and only pair the last few years are a pair of black diamond poles, the 'alpine carbon cork.'  thinking about reviewing them.  

April 15, 2021
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